Is There More than One Future Hall of Famer on the Current Vikings Defense?

Lewis Cine smiling after recovering from brutal lower leg injury.

There’s currently a future Hall of Fame player roaming the defensive backfield and demolishing opposing teams for the Minnesota Vikings, and there may be more than one. The franchise is known for developing impressive defensive players, including some of the best safeties to ever play in the NFL. The most notable being Paul Krause, the NFL’s all-time interceptions leader with an outrageous 81 career picks.

Any reasonable football fan should think of Minnesota’s current safety Harrison Smith as a near-lock for a gold jacket. He is T-1st among active defensive backs with 34 career interceptions, has a penchant for blowing up opposing QB’s with 16.5 sacks, and has a real opportunity to pass 1,000 combined tackles this season with 946 so far. The only knock on his otherwise stellar resume is the lack of a Super Bowl ring, which detractors always bring up to tarnish elite Vikings players.

Let’s consider a different NFL safety that was considered elite for the entirety of their playing career with 32 INTs, 3 TD’s (Smith has 4), 12 sacks, and 783 combined tackles. Those stats warranted Troy Polamalu’s enshrinement in Canton, and Smith has an opportunity to keep widening the gap between him and other historically great players. While Smith might not play for too much longer, he is in a perfect position to mentor Lewis Cine, Minnesota’s 2022 1st-round draft pick who is bursting with promise.

Cine’s rookie season was cut short when he suffered a horrific leg injury during the team’s game against the Saints in London, England. The damage was significant enough to prevent him from returning to the US for a prolonged period as he had to wait to be medically cleared for an airplane. The injury was reminiscent of Joe Theismann’s (which forced him to retire), and, more recently, Alex Smith’s (which nearly forced an amputation of his leg). Miraculously, Cine was spotted without a walking boot less than three months later and was already a full-go for this offseason’s OTA’s.

The sky is the limit for Cine if he can spend this year roaming the field with Smith after being able to watch the best in the business from the sidelines last season. The major trait that solidified his draft position is his incredible football IQ. He has a knack for always being in position to make an incredible play and can and align his teammates to be in the best spots as well. This was frequently on display during Georgia’s 33-18 victory over Alabama in the 2022 NCAA National Championship, in which Cine played an integral part and was declared Defensive Player of the Game.

Cine seems eager to learn from Smith and deliver some crushing hits, and new DC Brian Flores should maximize the young safety’s potential in his pressure-centric scheme. This should be a year of opportunity for players that struggled under previous DC Ed Donatell. Cine mentioned one his favorite reasons for playing as, “You can break some other man’s will and get away with it,” and he will have a perfect opportunity to prove it.

If his superhuman ability to heal from a traumatic, potentially career-ending leg injury is any indication of his ability to play to his potential and use the knowledge and reps of playing next to a future Hall of Famer in Smith, there’s no reason not to believe that Cine can be the next legendary Vikings safety. The sky is the limit for this young man, and Vikings fans should be excited about Smith passing the torch, and Cine laying the wood on opposing teams for years to come.

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